Friday, May 2, 2014

Truckers Stage 2-Day Picket SoCal Container Terminals

By Mark Edward Nero

Dozens of truck drivers serving the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach returned to work April 30 after a 48-hour unfair labor practice strike that marked an escalation in the nonunion drivers’ fight for employee rights.

The picketing began at 6 am April 28 at the Long Beach Container Terminal at the Port of Long Beach and later spread to other locations throughout the port complex, including the Evergreen and Yusen terminals at the Port of LA.

Drivers from three trucking companies – Rancho Dominguez-based Green Fleet Systems and Total Transportation Services Inc., and Pacific 9 Transportation of Carson – participated in the picket.

The strike was organized by the Teamsters union, which has been trying for years to get the truckers, who are classified as independent owner-operators, reclassified as employees and thereby eligible to join the union.

On the strike’s first day, roughly 100 International Longshore & Warehouse Union dockworkers refused to cross the truckers’ picket lines, but were eventually ordered back to work about five hours into the picket by an independent arbitrator citing the ILWU’s collective bargaining agreement. The same arbitrator, however, ruled that the truckers were allowed to continue with their picket.

“I spent nearly 48 hours on the picket line,” Dennis Martinez, a port truck driver who works for Total Transportation Services said. “Our resolve has never been stronger. We will not tolerate any form of retaliation, harassment, or intimidation in our fight to have our rights as employees – and our right to form a union – recognized.”

Fred Potter, the Teamsters’ International Vice President and Director of the Port Division, said the picket was “highly successful” and that it sent a strong message to the trucking companies, their shipper clients and the terminal operators.

“The era of port truck driver exploitation is over,” he said.

In response to the strike, the Harbor Trucking Association, a coalition of LA/Long Beach intermodal carriers, issued a statement decrying the labor action, saying that it was unnecessary because numerous drayage companies in the harbor area already offer employee status to their drivers.

“There are literally hundreds of unfilled vacancies for company drivers throughout Southern California,” HTA Executive Director Alex Cherin said in the statement. “If a driver wants to become an employee, rather than an independent contractor, he or she can do so.”

This week’s labor action at LA/Long Beach was just the latest act of defiance by drayage truck drivers at West Coast ports. In February and March, more than a thousand union and nonunion truck drivers launched separate strikes at Port Metro Vancouver in British Columbia over wages and other issues. The strike was settled in late March.

Also, last December, drayage truck drivers at the Port of Oakland set up pickets at four terminal gates for a day in protest of new statewide environmental rules requiring that older, more polluting trucks undergo significant retrofitting in order to continue operating at the port.